Only a joke by Alexander Grischuk managed to liven up what was a quiet day at the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. Grischuk and his fellow Russian Peter Svidler were unhappy with the positions they got with the white pieces and offered draws around move 20. Their Ukrainian opponents gratefully accepted and will now go into the return classical game tomorrow as slight favourites.
Ruslan Ponomariov played the Berlin Defence against Peter Svidler, who used 4.d3 to avoid the notorious endgame. The critical moment came after Ponomariov’s 19…Ndf4:
The Russian commentators thought 20.Be4 (which could lead to very sharp play) was the only option to continue the struggle. Computers also suggest 20.Bxg6, but after Svidler’s 20.Bxf4 there was no longer any question of an advantage for White. Ponomariov said afterwards:
After Svidler exchanged on f4 on his 20th move he didn’t even have the advantage of the two bishops and the position became almost symmetrical and absolutely equal. It would no longer have been interesting to play on, so White offered a draw.
Alexander Grischuk’s game against Vassily Ivanchuk was more disappointing as Grischuk seemed to get a significant edge. He was soon behind on the clock, however, and perhaps began to let things slip with 17.Be3, which allowed Black to play the freeing break 18…e5. However, even in the final position after 22.Nxe5 Sergey Shipov felt White still had enough of an edge to play on:
Shipov had predicted a Grischuk – Ponomariov final, but now sees the Ukrainian grandmasters as favourites to win both semis. Afterwards Grischuk talked about the game, and told the promised joke!:
The position we got today reminded me of my game against Morozevich at the Russian Team Championship in Dagomys: I had an edge back then as well, and I let it slip just as ineptly in a few moves before offering a draw. There’s something else I’d note. The situation in the hall in the semifinals recalls the children’s joke about how two flies flew into a sports hall and one says to the other: “It’s a little cold!”, and the second replies: “Don’t worry, our breath will soon warm it up!” There are only 4 players left in the hall, and somehow it’s become a little cold in there.
At least this year’s system – where the semifinal losers will play a crucial match for a place in the Candidates Tournament – means there will always be four players. In his Crestbook interview Ponomariov memorably described the situation during his 2009 World Cup final against Boris Gelfand:
And then there was also a curious situation during the first game of my final match against Gelfand. He made a move and went off somewhere. I replied quickly and also left the board to go and drink some water. Coincidentally, the arbiters had also gone somewhere at that point, and there were absolutely no spectators in the hall – nobody! It struck me as a very depressing spectacle for chess :( ... It seems that FIDE are threatening to hold the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk again next time round. Dear chess fans, please come and support this beautiful and uncompromising game!
The second game of the semifinals takes place tomorrow. Ruslan Ponomariov and Vassily Ivanchuk will have the white pieces.
World Cup Semis, Day 1: Two flies flew into a sports hall…